In this series, we look more closely at lesser-known regions of Italy in every issue. As consumers continue to clamor for authentic, regional food from Italy, it pays to be in the know! This month, we travel to Italy’s southern-most part, arriving on the island of Sicily.
Sicily was first colonized by the Phoenicians and Greeks in ancient times, and today its cuisine carries influences from across the Middle East, including couscous and saffron, arancini and preserved citrus. Not surprisingly (as it’s an island) there is plenty of seafood, including swordfish and tuna. Overall it’s a robust and often vegetarian peasant cuisine. Many of the ingredients are known to American consumers, including garlic, tomatoes both canned and fresh, spicy pepperoncino and of course, plenty of olive oil.
Featured dish: Pasta alla Norma
The simple but satisfying vegetarian “Pasta alla Norma” is an iconic dish of Sicily. Legend has it that the name comes from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera “Norma.” Nino Martoglio, a 19th century Sicilian writer, poet and theater director, was so impressed when he first tasted this dish that he compared it to “Norma,” Bellini’s masterpiece. And the name remained ever since.
To make Pasta alla Norma, the eggplants are salted, cubed and fried in EVOO, a crucial step to develop the right flavor and texture. The cheese is ricotta salata, the local pressed and salted version of fresh ricotta. Fresh basil adds a finishing touch to this simple tomato-based classic.